More than 55 million American children leave home each morning, their parents entrusting their safety to the schools they attend. As our world changes and violence penetrates our communities, we ask ourselves, are our schools safe?
The answer makes us uncomfortable. The answer depends upon us and our ability to face reality, problem-solve together, and take charge of the safety of our schools.
Following the tragedy at Sandy Hook School, few of us find comfort in platitudes like, “Not in our town,” “random act of violence,” and “isolated incident.” As we watch our children, spouses, and other loved ones leave for school, we wonder if they will return to us.
As I sent my older daughters back to school following the loss of their little sister at Sandy Hook, I knew more profoundly than ever that their safety was my responsibility.
“But what could I do?”
I reached out for answers and found them far simpler than I had imagined.
We must band together—parents, students, educators, responders, and community members.
We must control access to our schools, increase our awareness and presence in them, and step off the sidelines and participate in school safety. We must prepare and practice for the worst so that it never happens.
We learn from our most painful experiences how not to repeat them. What can we learn from Sandy Hook?
Once 911 is called, trained responders are on the way. The national average response time to an emergency is five to six minutes. With thoughtful safety and security assessments and increased vigilance and adherence, and with examination, discussion, and training, we can take back those minutes.
“But we can’t afford to do this ...”
The cost of the most-effective safety measures and practices is little or nothing. With our American ingenuity, time, effort, education, and practice, we can continually improve and support school safety. We can prevent tragedy.
Our law enforcement and emergency response teams are examining and changing their practices because of lessons learned at Sandy Hook. Parents, teachers, students, and community leaders must do the same.
We must work as a team, learn from one another, and humble ourselves to reality. We cannot do this alone, or from the singular perspectives of family life, education, law enforcement, emergency response, and government.
“How and where do I start?”
Find others like you. Ask questions, start the discussion, online, in PTA and staff meetings, and at the bus stop. Everyone can get behind safe schools, but it will take everyone, working together and learning from one another, to make our schools safer.
Please visit our website at Safe and Sound to learn more about how you can make and keep your school safer. safeandsoundschools.org.
Michele Gay is one of the founders of Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative. After losing her daughter, Josephine Grace, in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, she became an advocate for improved school security and safety. Ms. Gay previously taught at the elementary level in Maryland and Virginia public schools.
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